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Q&A: Ex-Red Sox pitcher Bill 'Spaceman' Lee on running for governor, America's future

The former Red Sox lefthander couldn't win elected office in Vermont, but he still has plenty of thoughts to share on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the political climate of the United States.

On an Election Day that delivered many surprising returns, Vermont had some of the strangest. President-elect Donald Trump did worse there than he did in every state besides Hawaii, but Hillary Clinton captured only 55% of the vote. A full 12.4% of the state’s presidential ballots were cast for third-party candidates or write-ins. More votes were written in for Bernie Sanders—the state's junior senator, who was no longer running for president—than were cast for third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined.

So it's in keeping with the state’s idiosyncrasy that eccentric ex-big-league lefty and Craftsbury resident Bill “Spaceman” Lee got 8,912 votes—2.78% of the vote—running for governor on the Liberty Union ticket. (Phil Scott, the Republican lieutenant governor, defeated Sue Minter, the state's former secretary of transportation.) Lee, who had mounted a presidential campaign for the gag Rhinoceros Party in 1988, declined this go-around to raise money or, for that matter, to campaign. He nevertheless agreed to recount his experience in the arena to SI.

bill-lee-gram-ap2.jpg So, what happened?

Bill Lee: I got 2.24 votes per penny spent. It’s very efficient—just think if I’d gone out there and tried. I have the message; they didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t want to hear when I ran for president, and look where we are now.

You’re talking about Trump?

Election night, I was at our group meeting at the Halvorson’s on Church Street in Burlington. I had a flight to go to Florida the next day. When it went for Trump, I canceled my baseball trip for the next two weeks. I’m not gonna play this fall in the Roy Hobbs tournament because of the way Florida went. I said, to hell with them, I’m not gonna spend a dime there. I’m not gonna spend a dime in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia.

Denying global warming! I hope in four years that we have, in a hurricane, a tornado that just levels his property in Palm Beach. That’s all I want. I want that frickin’ denial of global warming to bite him right in the butt. And I’ve got a feeling he’s gonna get that.

What was on the minds of Vermont voters?

Fear. Fear of losing their guns. Fear dominates, not optimism. When you come out with an optimistic message, you know—mankind’s not that way. My message is just that there’s no problem here! Just bad diet and bad education, and that’s all I said. Correct your diet, correct your education level, and quit voting against your best interests. If you’re afraid, buy a dog.

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Did you think you got a fair shot?

I knew that the machine of the Democratic Party and the machine of the GOP—we are a two-party machine, and we chug to the left and we chug to the right and we never go forward unless we’re kicked in the ass. There’s a guy Ard Schenk, a speedskater from Holland. Do you remember him?


Well, he developed the training where you slide left, slide right, slide left, slide right, and I said, boy, that’s the American government right there.

Were you happy with what you got?

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I don’t know what I got. I wanted at least 3.65, my ERA. But eight thousand votes, that’s a lot of people in one ballpark. Hey—I had the year of my life. I won the Vermont state baseball championship. My team may have lost the election, but we live in Vermont.

What does that mean?

We are completely isolated from the rest of the United States. Nothing that happens in Washington will affect us. Nothing.

In a good way or a bad way?

In a bad way. We are impervious. We can go to Canada and get an X-ray for $18. We can go to Canada and do anything we want!


What did you think of the Bernie Sanders movement? Was he a good ambassador for Vermont?

I loved it. I believe he would have beaten Trump hands-down. Great ambassador. He’s Vermont. He’s a flatlander that came up from Brooklyn. He came up here and fell in love with it like everybody else. I’m here for the same reason. My house is halfway between the bars in Boston and the bars in Montreal. If I had lived in either one of those towns I’d be dead now. When you drink for free, you die early.

Who voted for you?

I’ve met a few of them—a lot of conservatives who would have voted for Phil Scott. I’m not the reason, by the way, that Sue Minter lost. She came out of an overconfident, unorganized party that thought they were gonna ride on the skirt-tails of Hillary. They didn’t realize it was a slide going in the other direction.

So you’re not a fan of Hillary.

I don’t like Hillary at all. I’m a socialist. A guy wrote me a letter and sent me a dollar. He said he voted for me, said there was an issue on the lake up there between the kayakers and the boat people, and he was hoping I could resolve it. I gave him his dollar back and said if you own a boat, you’re no longer middle class. I’m with the rowers. I’m with the guys in the pneumatics that are floating around taking pictures of ducks.

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What’d you learn about Vermont?

We love checks and balances. Since I believe Phil Hoff got elected in 1963 as our first Democratic governor, every Democrat has been followed by a Republican, and vice versa. But look at our lieutenant governor. [David Zuckerman, a state legislator and farmer, who just won the office.] He’s a progressive, almost a socialist. But he’s not, really. Because he still sprays his plants with Roundup and crap. On second thought, he’s a fraud, too.

What did you make of the ballot initiatives elsewhere—death penalty, marijuana?

I saw that Vermont lost out. Maine, they’re going to get the money, and Massachusetts. We’ll drive there to get our stuff.

What lessons should Americans take from the election?

Shoot your radios, shoot your TVs—if Trump’s said he’s never read a book, everyone else better start reading. And you’re not getting any information out of the TV or radio anymore, considering how wrong everybody was.

Are you gonna run again?

I’ll run against Trump for president. I feel so bad for the people who voted for Trump. I’m sitting here in paradise. They think they’re gonna get their coal mine back. Didn’t they ever see the movie about the town in West Virginia where the Pinkertons shot all those people? Matewan?

Anyway, I’m gonna go sit in Canada on the Oyster River and write my memoirs. Doesn’t that sound good? I’ll be sitting on a bend in the river and at the bottom of the river there’s a Fisher body, an old Cadillac. The steelhead trout breed right over it and spawn. I’m gonna sit there and think about Detroit.